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July 16, 2001
Meningitis Outbreak Among Men Who Have Sex with Men
Toronto Public Health is advising men who have sex with men to take precautions
to prevent the spread of meningitis. Five cases of the illness among this
population have been reported in the last two months.

"Meningitis is circulating in the community and precautions should be taken,"
said Dr. Sheela Basrur, Medical Officer of Health.

Dr. Basrur noted that the number of cases of meningitis in Toronto has
increased in the first six months of this year. "This increase is primarily in
cases of men who have sex with men, and it includes two individuals who died."

Provincial health officials are consulting with Toronto Public Health to plan a
vaccination campaign for men who have sex with men to prevent the further
spread of the disease.

Meningitis is spread through saliva, usually by kissing or sharing food,
drinks, cigarettes or any sexual acts involving saliva contact. The disease can
be treated with antibiotics.

"Men who have sex with men need to know the risks associated with any type of
saliva contact. Our education efforts are focused on ensuring they make
informed decisions," said Robert Trow, Program Co-ordinator with Hassle Free
Clinic in downtown Toronto.

Symptoms of meningitis include fever, headache, stiff neck and vomiting. Anyone
who experiences these symptoms should call a doctor immediately. Close contacts
of meningitis cases can receive preventative antibiotics.

Toronto Public Health has set up a hotline for meningitis-related inquires:

Meningitis Outbreak Among Men Who Have Sex With Men

Since the beginning of this year, there has been an increase in the number of
reported cases of meningococcal disease (meningitis) in Toronto - 22 cases
compared with an average of 16 for this period previously. The increase
resulted primarily from five cases in men who have sex with men (MSM), all
reported since early May. Two of these five individuals died and the other
three are recovering.

Who are men who have sex with men?
  • men who do not identify themselves as gay or bisexual but who have sex with men
  • men who are bisexual
  • men who are gay

What is meningococcal disease?
It is an infectious disease caused by bacteria that are normally present in the
throat or nose. About 25 per cent of the general population carries the
bacteria without feeling sick or showing signs of the disease. Most adults are
naturally immune to the disease.

What are the symptoms of meningitis?
People who are sick with this disease may have several of the following
  • fever
  • headache
  • vomiting
  • stiff neck
  • rash
  • drowsiness, confusion, state of excitement
  • convulsions or seizures
The symptoms will usually show up within two to ten days of
exposure to the bacteria.
Anyone who develops any of these symptoms should see a doctor right away.

How is it spread?
The disease is spread through saliva, usually by kissing or sharing food,
drink, cigarettes or other things that have been in the mouth of a person with
the disease. The bacteria can be spread through any form of sexual activity
involving contact with saliva.

Can meningitis be treated?
Meningitis can be treated with a number of effective antibiotics. It is very
important that treatment be started early in the course of the disease.

Is a vaccine available?
A vaccination program for men who have sex with men is currently being planned.
Call the number below for information on locations where the vaccination will
be made available.

Media Contact
Access Toronto



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